Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Journey to Bethlehem in Advent

Advent 4 - Week of Dec 21, Luke 1.26-38

The angel said to her….“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord…”

Mary’s simple declaration of trust in God so vividly captures the spirit I have seen in those who have chosen to remain in Palestine and nonviolently resist the Israeli military occupation of their land. Trusting that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” is how they get through each day with dignity and hope. They say, with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”

The angel says to them, “Do not be afraid…for you have found favor with God.” And they believe the promise. When I hear these words, I think of the day we met the mayor of Ein Hod, Muhammed Abu al-Haija, who told us about his family’s story of terror and rebirth. He and his family and all of the other residents fled this village in 1948, during the Arab-Israeli war.

When the war ended, the Israel authorities did not permit them to return to the village, so, rather than go to the Jenin refugee camp, Muhammed al-Haija’s grandfather and 35 other families trekked up the hill to their farmland and lived in their olive groves and the fields where they grazed their sheep. They built houses to live in, but, because the new village at the top of the hill was “unrecognized” by the Israeli authorities, they could not get access to electricity or water. The Israelis bulldozed some of their homes because they were built without permits. Even though the Arab villagers were Israeli citizens and paid taxes, the Israeli government would not build a road to their village because it was not on the map. When they petitioned the government for recognition, they were told that it was too small, their land was classified “agricultural” and that they could not build there; they were called “squatters.” Finally, after many years spent in Israeli government offices, contacting officials, organizing with other unrecognized villages and holding protests in Jerusalem, upper Ein Hod was finally recognized in 1992, and their village address could be listed on their Israeli identity cards.

It took fifteen more years, but in 2007, they were finally connected to the electric grid. They built a kindergarten and an elementary school. And they built a road with money they withheld from their taxes, so that their children could ride the bus to the high school in Haifa. And finally they were permitted to install a water system. They still cannot use their cemetery, but they have built a new one at the top of the hill.
The ultimate insult was when Iaraelis “discovered” the “abandoned” village of Ein Hod at the bottom of the hill. Artists moved into the empty buildings, “squatting” on their land, even turning their mosque into a restaurant for tourists. Today the artists paint and tourists drink coffee under the beautiful olive trees which were planted by the Arab villagers hundreds of years ago.
With the electricity, Mayor al-Haija has built his own restaurant in the village at the top of the hill. It has a patio with beautiful gardens and ancient olive trees and people like our tour group come there for delicious hummus and roast lamb. Mayor al-Haija told us that he worked hard for many years to get recognition for his village and then fighting for electricity, water and roads. Now he is tired and he says it is up to the next generation. Only two houses currently have electricity—the others await permits. Their houses can be bulldozed at any time because they still do not have permits to build. The photo shows the new restaurant in New Ein Hod.

--One hundred other Arab villages till wait for recognition.

O Lord our God, you have chosen us and made us your own. Help us to say, with Mary, “I am the servant of my God. I live to do your will.” Then lead us, together in this community, to wisely discern where God is calling us to minister, so that we may be healers of the wounds of the world. In the name of your Son, the babe of Bethlehem, Amen.

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